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ship wave

Research supporting safer, stabler ships


One of the biggest risks to life at sea is ships becoming unstable when they’re overloaded or exposed to harsh currents and rough weather. The international shipping community has long been searching for a set of rules and guidance on ship stability – the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has been developing the Second Generation Intact Stability Criteria (SGISC) and preparing to apply them to all vessels for over a decade.

Some factors governing ship stability are man-made – not sticking to safe loading limits, for example. Others are forces of nature and more unpredictable – such as the interaction of waves and ships. We’re supporting research being carried out by a team under Professor Yongwhan Kim from Seoul National University (SNU) to find out more about how ships behave under different sea conditions.

“The grant from our partners at Lloyd’s Register Foundation is allowing us to learn essential lessons about one of shipping’s urgent priorities – the interaction between vessels and the prevailing sea conditions. This essential funding, we hope, will provide a stimulus for everyone – research bodies, international regulators and the shipping industry – to develop safer ships and better guidelines for avoiding catastrophic capsize incidents that put lives at risk,” said Professor Kim.

The research is part of a long-standing collaboration between the Foundation and SNU, starting with the establishment in 2008 of the Lloyds Register Foundation Research Centre. The research aims to develop innovative technologies in the domain of ship-design by conducting front-end research, particularly focusing on technical issues related to ship performance and risk in waves. Its goals are:

  • Development of a new and enhanced technology to predict the speed loss and required power increase in ocean environment
  • Development of essential technology related to seakeeping performance for smart ship
  • Advanced research on ship dynamic stability in harsh ocean waves
  • Enhancement of ship route optimization to consider ship performance in waves.

South Korea is a world leader in shipbuilding – so ideally placed to lead research which will affect the safety of everyone who depends on safe shipping. And this work is urgent – to prevent catastrophes costing hundreds of lives, which are still happening in spite of advances in our knowledge of ship design.

When the MV Sewol capsized and sank in 2014, killing 304 people including 250 high school students, accident investigations found the ship’s stability was a key factor. On the day of the catastrophe, it was carrying too much cargo and not enough ballast, and fatally listed while negotiating the treacherous Maenggol Channel on its journey from Incheon to Jeju in South Korea.

Based at the university’s Marine Hydrodynamics Laboratory, the programme will increase knowledge of how ships perform in different wave conditions, and hopefully lead to better hull design.

In spite of the disruption from COVID over the last year, the project has developed:

  • A new numerical method for predicting how ships will manoeuvre in waves
  • New technology for predicting weather factors

An enhancement of WISH, software that measures how ships perform under loading and wave conditions, to improve the accuracy of measurement.

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